19 September 2010

Alex McGoldrick’s ‘A Memoir of Arabia’

My friend and former colleague Alex McGoldrick has just published his A Memoir of Arabia, an account of his time as Australian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia,  the Gulf Emirates, the Sultanate of Oman and the Yemen, from 1988-91.

Prior to accepting this post, Alex had had a long career as a senior officer of the Department of Trade, with postings to the Australian Embassies in Washington and Brussels, and was then appointed as Australian Ambassador to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in Paris. It was from there that he was asked to accept the appointment to Riyadh.

There are not many people sitting by the phone in Paris waiting for the call to go to Riyadh, and Alex would be the first to admit that he was not one of them, but he took up the challenge with characteristic good humour and he looks back on his time there with warmth, in spite of the obvious difficulties and the remarkable frustrations.

His timing was not the best: he was in Riyadh during the 1991 Gulf War, when the Iraqi Scud missiles were falling, but his having been present during such times adds to the interest of the tale he has to tell. An issue of less prominence but greater difficulty from Australia’s point of view was the extraordinary tensions that led to and arose from the 1989 Saudi rejections of shipments of live sheep, and the long-term suspension of the trade.

I visited Riyadh twice during Alex’s time there; first, in late 1988, in preparation for a proposed visit by Bob Hawke which did not in the event take place. The second occasion was in 1991, about two weeks after the fighting had stopped, when I came in as a member of Trade Minister Neal Blewett’s delegation and after a high speed car convoy to Taif to call upon the Kuwaiti ruler, who had taken up residence there, we all flew in to Kuwait on a Saudi Air Force C-130 (Hercules), arriving there on the same day that Stormin’ Norman Schwartzkopf first entered the city, thereby being the first Ministerial-level foreign delegation to visit that looted and burned city after the Gulf War. Alex himself had been in with his New Zealand colleague a week before.

This is a personal memoir, not a history, and as such it contains much to interest the general reader. It is a good story, gently told.

A Memoir of Arabia is on sale in the better Canberra bookshops, and is in the process of being distributed nationally by a major distributor. For those who are keen to get their hands on a copy promptly, it is available from the National Library of Australia Bookshop here at the Recommended Retail Price of $27.45.

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